Paparazzi Princesses—the debut novel from Birdman and Lil Wayne’s daughters Bria Williams and Reginae Carter—could have easily been a memoir from the young heiresses to the YMCMB empire. Most of the content is just as powdery as the title, and it’s as if their co-writer Karyn Folan asked them every day, “What happened today at school?”, and the response to that question was the first 60% of the novel. It’s filled with disappointed parents, feuding and fraudulent friends and failed tests. Yet, surprisingly, one of the book’s dominant themes is something of a heavier substance—the girls combatting class segregation and how being Black and having wealth have somehow become dichotomous. The girls speak as dual-narrators in this fictitious, yet eerily similar, tale.
The story begins with Kayla—Birdman’s daughter Bria—loosing a pair of her fuchsia Louboutin flats. She then accuses Promise—Lil Wayne’s daughter Reginae—of stealing the shoes in order to sabatoge her shine. There is this omnipresent competition between the two girls, both of whom think that the other is perfect and that they are the flawed ones. This competition even extends to the other female characters in the novel, painting the majority of them in a fairly negative light. The protagonists’ female friends compete to be a “better” friend, while Kayla’s male friend saves her from all her troubles by encouraging her to be herself. Then, the character who commits the ultimate betrayal at the climax of the book is a woman. It’s a recurring motif that is both demeaning and trite.
Despite its narrative problems, it is the writing style that hurts the novel the most. The novel is written in same cliche-heavy, over-dramatized and overstated nature as the young adult fan-fiction stories of Lil Bow Wow and B2K from the early 2000′s. Furthermore, the lack-luster writing obfuscates book’s message. It’s intent is to teach young girls that money is not the answer to all of life’s problems, and wealth comes with its own of set problems. The themes of betrayal and living in the shadows of their successful parents frequently show the negative consequences of financial success, but they ultimately come off as bratty and typical pre-teen pitty parties and temper tantrums.
However, Paparazzi Princesses is successful in some regards, as it speaks to some very interesting social issues including racial relations and sociopolitical status. As the only wealthy Black girl in the school, Kayla must contend with racial allegiances and classist issues on a daily basis. Does she connect more with those who also come from a more privileged background like she did or is her natural racial allegiances the stronger connection? Shockingly, these issues are dealt with an unflinching and surprisingly candid authority—middle school girls can be so ruthless.
Additionally, the book’s use of symbolism is surprisingly poignant. Kayla is given a snow globe that has a Katrina-worn house in it to remind her of what’s really important—her family. The novel also encourages its readers to follow and create their own paths and not let the expectations of their parents overcome them. Kayla’s dream is to become a fashion designer, yet her father aggressively pushes her to continue his musical legacy. In the end, he comes around the support her desires because of her persistence.
It’s a major accomplishment for Bria Williams and Reginae Carter to have pen Paparazzi Princesses at such a young age. However, the lack of adult guidance in the novel’s creation ultimately prevented the authors from being able to translate their girlish dreams into a more refined literary work. — Written by Abrea Armstrong (@abreaknowsbest)